Retsina is among the oldest known wines in the world. Whereas newcomer wines, like Merlot, have claimed widespread appeal within the past century, Retsina wine has stood the test of time. Over 2,000 years ago, before Rome, the Ancient Greeks were responsible for inventing the process of making Retsina wine.
Retsina is a white, or rosé wine, which exists between a semi-sweet and semi-dry. The grape has undergone updates in cultivated, by some vintners, but the process of making Retsina harkens back to oldest known wine-craft. Retsina has retained the traditional fashion by which it was originally produced, thanks to the unique and aromatic flavors that are brought out through the process.
Through all the years and advances in winemaking, Retsina has withstood it all and retained its ancient legacy. The Retsina wine you buy today is crafted through the same winemaking process as the vintners of old, of over two millennia in the past.
Retsina is a tradition, kept alive by ongoing fever. And, like all time-tested traditions, the unique way in which Retsina is made was founded in necessity. Little did the Greeks know that the necessity to preserve wine with natural substances would lead to a timeless treasure.
The Ancient Rosé from Greece – Retsina
In the days of Ancient Greece, barrels had not been invented. As you can imagine, the Ancients lacked air-tight sealed containers where wine could store without contact to oxygen. There was a necessity to keep wine from spoiling, so they adopted an interesting technique.
The Greeks took to sealing their wine containers with Aleppo pine resin. The resin made an air-resistant seal around the wines container and enabled the wine to be preserved and age. Like an oaken barrel aged wine, the wine became infused with the aroma and tastes of the pine resin.
Undoubtedly, the infusion of pine resin was a less than desirable taste for many wines of the day. However, Retsina became known for the flavors and notes brought out by the resin. The pine resin was discovered to compliment the taste of this wine. So, today, Retsina is the only wine that still employs resin in the storing and aging process, thanks to the sumptuous flavors brought out by the pine sap infusion.
Origins of Retsina
In the ancient times, Retsina may have been the first wine that was not preserved with salt. Before using pine resin, salt was the dominating preservative used in wine. When Retsina was introduced, it was likely among the first wines that could be preserved without salt.
Just imagine how clean and refreshing a glass of Retsina was to the Ancient Greeks. It was no wonder when the Romans came along; the Retsina winemaking process was among the traditions that were carried on into the whole of Europe and the world.
That being said, traditional Retsina did, still, incorporate salty seawater in the process. However, the amount of saltwater needed to preserve white grapes, like Retsina, was considerably less, thanks to the pine resin preservation technique.
Today, you will have a hard time finding a Retsina that has been made with seawater, since we now understand how bad for your health it truly is to drink seawater. But, the subtle infusion of pine resin remains the feature that separates Retsina from the rest.
Retsina Wine Tasting Profile
Retsina wine is rich with fragrant, earthy, delicate aromas, like linseed oil, lime peel, and roses. It has middle notes of apple, pine, and citrus, and a finish of saline and peach. Retsina can have a smooth, oily texture.
The wine is generally considered to be mildly acidic, which lends to the flavors of lime and
citrus. It features little sweetness on the pallet, but a clean, strong finish.
Retsina is known for producing notes of turpentine, which sounds unpleasant, at first. Just remember, just because a wine has notes of tobacco, leather, and wood shavings do not mean that the wine outwardly tastes like any of those things.
Some of the best wines in the world have flavor notes of things you would never want to eat, let alone pay over $1000 for – like dirt. Just because it has notes of turpentine, does not mean that it tastes like you are drinking turpentine.
Just give yourself a chance to enjoy it with an open mind. And, the right food pairings never hurt.
Retsina Food Pairings
Retsina is filled with the aromas of sumptuous herbs and earth. Drink it with flavors brought out by fire. Roast chicken, lamb, and pork are exquisite meats to bring out the wines middle tones. Lemon, mint, and rosemary are perfect herbs and flavor pairings for Retsina.
Retsina is often considered in the same flavor class as gin, because of its herbal aromas. Like gin, Retsina is sometimes used as an ingredient or mixer in cocktails and botanical spirits. Try cooking with Retsina wine when you are marinating white fish, potatoes, and beets.
Unlike many wines, which are named for the grapes from which the wine is made, Retsina can be made from several different grapes. In ancient Greece, several types of white grapes would often be blended to make Retsina.
The traditional Retsina wine was made from a base of Savatiano grapes. Savatiano is the most widespread wine grape that is cultivated on the island of Greece, to this day. Walk down a street in the city of Athens, and you will still see the ancient wild vines of Savatiano growing amongst the modern sprawl.
Assyrtiko grapes can also act as the base for Retsina, and often are. Other greek white grapes used in Retsina include Rhoditis and Athiri. Athiri is the base for Retsina that comes from Athens, in a Savatiano blend.
The craft of winemaking continues to this day because of innovations and upgrades to the processes and technologies used. But, when you sip a glass of Retsina, you are brought back to the roots of wine, and why we drink it. Retsina is a perfect bottle to open with close friends, just as was done over two thousand years ago by the Greeks.
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